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A shiva traditionally begins upon the mourners’ return to the home after the burial of the loved one. Although the shiva starts after the burial, there are a number of decisions made relating to the coordination and planning of a shiva immediately following the death of a loved one. 

To provide comfort and additional support to the mourning family, understanding some of the key items that go into planning a shiva are helpful.

The Family Representative

It is customary for the family to select a family representative or “shiva coordinator.” This designated individual will do the majority of the planning and organizing for the shiva, allowing the family to focus on their mourning rather than the details of shiva planning. Typically the coordinator is not an immediate family member; however, it may be an extended relative or close family friend. The family representative generally understands the family’s preferences and will consider the family’s beliefs and level of observance. They are also the point person for making all arrangements, notifying friends, coordinating meals and collecting contributions to the shiva.

How can the funeral director help? Ask the family for the name and contact information of the family representative. Introduce yourself to the coordinator and ensure they have all the service information, including where shiva details will be shared. 

Setting the Shiva Details

Traditionally, shiva is observed for seven days, beginning directly after the burial of the deceased. However, depending on the level of observance and many modern considerations, the shiva details may vary. Once the length of the shiva is determined, the family and the shiva coordinator will select the times the shiva home will be open for the community to pay a shiva call and when prayer services will be held at the shiva home. Typically shiva calls are held during the evening hours and the minyan service is scheduled toward the end of the shiva each evening. 

How can the funeral director help? Help the family distribute the shiva information, which is often included in the obituary. It is also customary to share shiva details in a small handout for those attending the funeral service both in-person and virtually. Details include the location of the shiva home, dates and times of the shiva, and any special instructions, for example, if the family would like contributions to the shiva or donations made in memory of the deceased. 

Always check with the family to ensure they are comfortable with the information being displayed publicly, as some families prefer to keep their shiva details private. If this is the case, the funeral director can divert any calls received to the shiva coordinator. 

Coordinating Food Contributions

Arranging and putting together food contributions can be the most stressful part of shiva planning. Some making a shiva call will bring traditional Jewish food items to the shiva; however, most send their condolences in the form of a contribution, food basket, or platter. 

Often shivas are catered by delicatessens or restaurants that are familiar with shiva and Jewish mourning traditions. To help simplify the process, the organizer may collect contributions and work directly with the deli or restaurant to ensure a more streamlined process. Today it has become common to announce and request that coordinations should be made to a single person or resource. The coordinator can then be relied upon for food selection. 

How can the funeral director help? Reach out to the family coordinator and share resources that may help. If the family has a ShivaPlan, ensure the family coordinator has access to edit it and share it with supporters. Offer’s Planning Services if the coordinator would like assistance with the entire process or simply share delis the funeral home has had great experiences with.

Although the family is not directly responsible for planning the shiva, helping them understand the family representative will be well cared for and has access to the information can ease the burden and provide additional comfort and support.

This is the second article in a three-part series by Read the first article in the series, “What to Know about Jewish Mourning and Shiva” by clicking here.

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